Sixteen students sat quietly in perfect rows, listening intently to a fellow student’s instructions about an upcoming assignment. Unlike some classrooms, there was no banter or horseplay, just a quiet, all-business demeanor.
Sgt. Maj. Ruby Murray bursts out of her adjoining office with the gusto of a drill sergeant. She shoots rapid-fire questions at the students and expects quick answers in return.
“Why are you overthinking?” she asks when the answers come too slowly.
Murray is a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor at South View High School. She has been there since she retired from the Army in 2016, instructing and mentoring young people — America’s future — to be the best they can be in whatever endeavor they pursue.
Murray is being recognized for the unselfish giving of her time and talents to her community and — most important — to her students as the recipient of one of CityView Magazine’s three 2022 Power of Giving Community Impact Awards presented by PWC.
Murray says her mission is to nurture her students to be better citizens — not necessarily perfect, but people who care about their community.
The discussion that day in Murray’s JROTC classroom centered on her cadets’ growth, their promotions in rank, their ability to speak in public, and their education. It also touched on some of their perceived insecurities.
“The door is closed,” Murray says, pointing to the classroom door. “This is now a safe haven.”
Her cadets respond by sharing some of their fears as they approach adulthood.
“Your education matters to Sgt. Maj. Murray,” she tells them.
Murray also reminds them of their obligation to their neighbors.
“Your community should always mean something to you. Your community has to have value to you,” she says.
Murray served 26 years in the Army. She and her husband settled in Fayetteville, where she ran into a JROTC instructor at Pine Forest High School. He told her she would make an excellent instructor and the program needed more women role models.
She began teaching later that year, instructing youngsters not only about military history and decorum but also about life in general. She did it so well that within two years, Cumberland County Schools honored her as Teacher of the Year.
Assistant South View High Principal Wesley Fulmore refers to Murray as “a great mentor.” She works well with both boys and girls who have had difficulty with appropriate behavior, he says.
“She made school exciting and inviting again, and she encouraged students to be proud of their accomplishments,” he adds.
Murray has stacked up accolades and achievements like the layered sergeant major stripes on her uniform sleeve. In the male-dominated environment of the military, Murray quickly rose through the noncommissioned officer ranks to sergeant major. She is happy to give credit for her success to supervisors and colleagues in the Army who she says saw and recognized her abilities to lead even before she did.
Her accomplishments span the spectrum of her life. The Army Quartermaster Hall of Fame Class of 2021 recognized her for significant contributions to the history and traditions of the Quartermaster Corps and inducted her into its Hall of Fame. Of the 22 honorees in 2021, only two were women.
In April, President Joe Biden recognized her for volunteerism with the prestigious 2021 President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest designation of the President’s Volunteer Service Award program. She was cited for more than 4,000 hours of community service. Murray credits her passion for giving back to her grandmother and father. They had big hearts, she says.
Current and former student cadets thought well enough of her to nominate her for CityView’s 2022 Power of Giving Community Impact Awards presented by PWC.
Among them were Ailana Ross, a sophomore at South View.
“Everything she does is very helpful for our community,” Ailana says. “She is a selfless person, and I’m always thankful for everything she helped me with.”
Trinity Ashworth, a freshman at North Carolina A&T State University, remembers meeting Murray as a cadet at South View.
“Actually, I was quite intimidated. She had a strong presence. But once I got to know her, I found out she really cares,” Trinity says.
“She is stern, but she wants you to improve and better yourself. She convinced me to apply for an ROTC scholarship. I’m at A&T on a full ride,” Trinity says.
She emphasizes that Murray’s concern that students perform at their best is not just directed toward her cadets, but to all students at South View.
Jack Larson met Murray during his junior year as a cadet. He graduated in 2018 and went on to attend Campbell University on an ROTC scholarship. He graduated this year with a degree in kinesiology and health and will begin a three-year physical therapy program in January before joining the Army as a lieutenant to fulfill his commitment.
Jack plans to attend Ranger school, perhaps become a Green Beret, and eventually work with combat-related amputees.
“We kept in close contact,” Jack says of Murray. “She was always a big advocate for us to stay in school, and she’s done a lot for me while I was at Campbell University.”
He remembers her most for how she deals with students.
“She treated each student as an adult, and she had an open-door policy,” he says.
Jack recalls a South View student with cerebral palsy who desperately wanted to be in JROTC. Because of his physical limitations, he could not be enrolled officially, he says. Instead, Murray made him an honorary cadet, provided him a uniform, and invited him to the annual cadet balls where he received his promotions.
“Overall, she’s an amazing woman. I consider her to be my second mom,” Jack says.
Rheann Ghail Aguas, also a South View sophomore, echoes the sentiments of other cadets.
“At first, I thought she was going to be a mean woman,” Rheann says, though she soon learned Murray’s true personality. “She’s the type of person to push us to our limits, to become better.”
Rheann says Murray taught her two important keys to life: have confidence and love yourself.
While Jack considers Murray his second mom, Murray’s sentiments about her students are the same.
“They become my sons and daughters. All my cadets become my kids,” she says.
Her real daughter, Jasmine, recently graduated from Winston-Salem State University with a degree in health administration. Luckily, Murray says, Jasmine is not the jealous type and supports her mother’s efforts to mold young adults.
Murray says she will always remember her grandmother’s advice.
“You can rest when you’re in the grave,” she told Murray. “For now, give all you have.”